With the 2011 MLB Rule IV draft finally concluded, hundreds of amateur baseball players will now embark on their professional careers. For many, however, the promise of draft day will soon give way to the harsh reality of the minor leagues, and most will likely never see the light of day in the majors. That’s why it’s almost impossible to accurately assess the quality of a team’s draft until well into the future. So, while we wait to pass judgment on the likes of Dante Bichette Jr., Sam Stafford and Jordan Cote, let’s instead take a look at how well (or, in some cases, not so well) the Yankees have drafted in the past.
Not unexpectedly, the Yankees have had a very uneven draft history. Over the first 10 years of the draft, the team netted at least 10 WAR in all but two years (1966 and 1974), and selected such future all stars such as Steve Rogers, Thurman Munson, Fred Lynn, Ron Guidry, Scott McGregor and LaMarr Hoyt. In addition, the Yankees also drafted such useful contributors as Stan Bahnsen, Doc Medich, Mike Heath, Willie Upshaw and Jim Beattie. However, in the one year the Yankees had the first selection, they opted for Ron Bloomberg and bypassed on the likes of Ted Simmons, John Mayberry and Bobby Grich.
With the advent of free agency in 1976, the team’s focus shifted away from developing amateur players to signing established veterans. As a result, the Yankees’ drafts were relatively barren over the next five years. During that span, however, the Yankees did unearth a 19th round gem in Don Mattingly, but otherwise the only other notable selections were Howard Johnson and Greg Gagne.
In 1981, the Yankees had one of their strongest drafts ever. In addition to selecting perennial All Star Fred McGriff, the team also picked up Bob Tewksbury, Eric Plunk and Mike Pagliarulo, a trio of players who would all contribute to the team during the decade. That year, the Yankees also selected a player who made it to the Hall of Fame despite never playing a single game in the majors. In the second round, the team opted for a two-way athlete named John Elway, but after a brief stint in the minors, the outfielder decided instead to play quarterback in the NFL.
The Yankees also had an impressive draft class in 1982, but most of the players selected, like B.J. Surhoff, Jim Deshaies and Bo Jackson, found success on other teams. Only Dan Pasqua spent some time in pinstripes, but he was eventually traded to the White Sox for Rich Dotson. Over the rest of the decade, the Yankees’ drafts were relatively poor, not the least of which was because the team had a first round draft pick in only two years (1984 and 1985). Despite the handicap, the Yankees often managed to find one nugget in the later rounds, but that player was usually traded before they could reap the rewards.
From 1983 to 1989, Todd Stottlemyre, Al Leiter, Hal Morris, Brad Ausmus, Fernando Vina and J.T. Snow were the only players drafted by the Yankees who posted a double-digit WAR, but none from that group made a meaningful contribution in pinstripes. With an aging major league roster and a farm system devoid of prospects, it’s no wonder that soon thereafter the team plunged into one of the worst four-year periods in franchise history.
The Yankees were terrible on the field in 1990 and 1991, seasons that concluded with the fourth and fifth lowest winning percentages in franchise history. However, in the front office, the suspension of George Steinbrenner brought about a return to normalcy. So, under the watchful eye of Gene Michael, the Yankees slowly began to rebuild their farm system via the draft.
In 1990, the Yankees had their most successful draft in terms of total WAR. Although first round selection Carl Everett would have a successful career away from the Bronx after being selected by the Florida Marlins in the expansion draft, the Yankees really hit the mother lode in the middle rounds. With the 22nd and 24th picks, respectively, the Yankees selected a left handed pitcher named Andy Pettitte and short stop named Jorge Posada. By the middle of the decade, those two players would become key components of a brand new Yankees’ dynasty.
For the first time since 1967, the Yankees had the overall first round pick in 1991. When they selected Brien Taylor, a high school left hander who reportedly could throw over 100 mph, most observers predicted that the Yankees had acquired their ace of the future. Unfortunately, less than two years into his development, the young fire-baller dislocated his left shoulder in a bar room fight. Taylor was never able recover from the injury, and his once promising career was over before it started.
The Yankees rebounded from the disastrous 1991 draft class, which produced only player with a positive WAR (Lyle Mouton at 1.5), by adding the crown jewel to their burgeoning dynasty with the selection of Derek Jeter in 1992. This time, the team’s can’t miss prospect didn’t.
Jeter, Posada and Pettitte, along with international free agents Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, wound up forming a homegrown core that by 1996 had already won a championship. While the Yankees were having historic success on the field, however, the team’s drafts weren’t as accomplished. From 1993 to 2004, the Yankees drafted only seven players who contributed a WAR of at least 4.5, and three of those players (Casey Blake, Mark Prior and Daniel Bard) didn’t sign with the team. In several years during that span, the Yankees failed to produce even one player who made a positive contribution in the majors. However, thanks to combination of savvy trades, opportunistic free agent signings and an increased focus on the international market, the Yankees were able to sustain their regular season success.
In 2005, the Yankees extended the contract of General Manager Brian Cashman, and in the process gave him more control over baseball operations. At the same time, the team promoted Damon Oppenheimer to scouting director. Since then, the Yankees have drafted several players who have made an early impact in the majors, including Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Dave Robertson and Drew Storen. The team also added several players now considered to be promising prospects, such as Dellin Betances, Austin Romine, Slade Heathcott and even Gerrit Cole, who, after spurning the Yankees in 2008, was selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in this year’s draft.
Yankees Top Draft Selections by WAR, 2000-Present
Who knows, maybe somewhere within one of the team’s recent drafts is the core of a new dynasty? Only time will tell, but like the players selected this week, it doesn’t hurt to dream.